Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

  • Insists on a cease-fire to gauge unity among members of the insurgent group

KABUL: In a clear sign of shifting strategies, Afghanistan’s government on Tuesday said that the Taliban should declare a one-month cease-fire before the restart of any peace negotiations.

The announcement follows the resumption of efforts by US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to revive Washington’s talks with the Taliban.

This was after US President Donald Trump’s decided to abruptly call off the discussions last month, just as both parties were nearing the signing of a deal after a year of intensive talks that had seen Kabul being excluded from the start due to the Taliban’s objection.

In the past, President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which relies on the US military as well as financial aid, had set no conditions for holding talks with the Taliban.

However, on Tuesday, Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, said that the government was insisting on setting a condition because events from the past year showed that “the Taliban were not united, have no control over the war … and some of Taliban’s major commanders have joined Daesh.”

“We have put the condition not with an intention of blocking peace, our purpose is that they have to show … and it is important that the Taliban should prove how much control they have over their commanders and warriors,” Mohib told a news conference in Kabul.

The Taliban had no immediate comment. While holding talks with Khalilzad, the Taliban has always insisted that the group will announce a truce only after Washington sets a timetable for a complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year when thousands of Taliban fighters had flooded urban areas, including Kabul, before joining the battleground and broadening their attacks.

The truce was the first-of-its kind in the latest chapter of the US-led war that began 18 years ago with the Taliban’s ousting.

Mohib said that Khalilzad’s visit this week, the first since he resumed his mission of reviving the talks with the Taliban, was not about peace in the country, but about the exchange of prisoners, which includes a US and an Australian teacher from the American University in Kabul who were kidnapped in 2016 and are held by the Taliban.

He did not elaborate further and did not say what the Taliban’s demands were in return for the freedom of the pair.

But in recent weeks, Taliban sources said that Anas Haqqani, son of a former prominent Taliban leader, was among those that the group had demanded to be set free. Anas, who was captured outside Afghanistan by US officials years ago, is held in an Afghan government-run jail.

Mohib said that Kabul was keen to attend an intra-Afghan conference hosted by China in which Taliban delegates are expected to participate. He said that it had asked Beijing to hold it after the announcement of the Afghan presidential election results that have been delayed twice.


Teens, parents among victims of crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Updated 9 sec ago

Teens, parents among victims of crash that killed Kobe Bryant

  • Authorities have not yet officially identified all the victims but family and friends have shared their grief in public announcements or postings on social media
  • Ara Zobayan, a commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor, was flying Bryant’s private chopper when it crashed into a hillside near Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: A baseball coach, two teenage girls and their parents and the pilot were among the victims of the helicopter crash that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter on Sunday.
Here is what we know so far about the victims.
Authorities have not yet officially identified all the victims but family and friends have shared their grief in public announcements or postings on social media.
Bryant, 41, died in the crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna as they were heading from Orange County, where he lives, to a youth basketball academy — Mamba Academy — northwest of Los Angeles.
John Altobelli, 56, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, died in the crash along with his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa.
The college confirmed their deaths in a statement.
“John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball,” the college’s athletic director Jason Kehler said in a statement. “He truly personified what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none — he treated them like family.”
Christine Mauser, 38, was the assistant coach for Gianni Bryant’s Mamba Academy basketball team.
“I got three small kids and am trying to figure out how to navigate life with three kids and no mom,” her husband Matt told NBC news.
Sarah and Payton Chester, a mother and daughter, lived in Orange County and died in the crash, family and friends said.
“They had to get on the helicopter as a convenience today, they usually drove by car,” Payton’s grandmother Catherine George told NBC.
Ara Zobayan, a commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor, was flying Bryant’s private chopper when it crashed into a hillside near Los Angeles and burst into flames, according to media report and tributes posted online.